Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Meet Israeli Institute Guest Artist Dafi Altabeb

By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Program Office Assistant

Note: Dafi Altabeb's quotes have been incorporated into this story and have been edited for length and clarity.

During the fall semester, the Emory Dance Program has had the honor of hosting Israeli guest artist Dafi Altabeb. So far this semester, she has held a creativity talk with Dance Program Director Lori Teague, while also teaching the Modern IV technique course and choreographing a piece for Emory Dance Company. Altebeb’s impressive career includes performances of her work in major international venues. She is a three-time recipient of the Israeli Ministry of Culture Excellence Award. Although Altabeb’s schedule is fairly busy, she took some time for an interview about her life as a choreographer.

While she did not envision growing up to be a choreographer as a child, Atlaben has always been interested in movement and dance. She was inspired at a young age by the Olympic games and movies with dance in them, and would imitate the movements that she saw. Altabeb, who originally wanted to be a veterinarian, began her journey as a choreographer by choreographing for a big festival in her town for many age groups, in which she won first prize awards.

Altabeb, who has been dancing for much of her life, began her training as a member of a folklore dance company that solidified her performance skills. In addition, she took daily classes in a variety of genres and techniques. Once she began college, she began dancing every day, with at least half of the day dedicated to technique classes.

Teaching and Choregraphing at Emory
This fall, Altabeb is teaching the Modern IV advanced technique course, which she has described as challenging and rewarding at the same time, as this is her first time teaching a full-semester course. She focuses on having students use the floor, the wall, and each other to experience support during movement, and how these supports an teach students to get power from it and use less force by themselves. She focuses on "leaning" in movement through combinations on the floor, using the wall, and in the center. For example, she has students perform a plie exercise while leaning on the wall.

Altabeb is one of the choreographers for the Emory Dance Company this season and when asked about how she cultivates movement, she responded: “Emotions drive me to create. It is usually what I and others feel about a subject. It is usually a topic that I am dealing with." Altabeb describes her movement process as bringing a theme into the studio and hearing what others have to say about it. Altatbeb and her dancers then work with improvisation games that will build the first material for the piece. She records these improvisations and watches them with her partner, Nini Moshe, and pulls movements that captivated them. Altabeb then chooses movements from the videos, and with the dancers, develops them, changes them, and works on their dynamics, tempo, movement qualities, etc. to ultimately create a piece that in the end is not improvised at all.

The Importance of Travel
Altabeb states: "Traveling abroad is the highlight if my career. I’m grateful that my art can be seen all over the world. It is really exciting to see how other people around the world react to my pieces. I love seeing how dance can communicate in such a global way, without using words."

One of Altabeb’s most exciting travel experiences was when she was commissioned to create a full-length piece to be premiered in an archaeological site on Naples. Six dancers performed sensitivity to heat, with a soundtrack based on Italian operas. The site had “a very special location on the sea and the audience came into the site threw a tunnel with lamps. It was a very important turning point in my career and a huge thing that happened to us.” 

See Dafi's new work for Emory Dance Company November 21-23, 2019. Tickets are available at or 404-727-7266.

Spotlight on "fence": An Interview with George Staib

fence runs October 3-6, 2019 in the dance studio of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Tickets are available at or 404-727-5050.

By Raven Crosby, Emory Dance Office Assistant

Note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

On Thursday October 3, 2019, at approximately 7:30p.m., dancers will take their places for the world premiere of fence, choreographed by George Staib and performed by his company, staibdance. This work is the fourth in Staib’s four-year unofficial saga of pieces that depict instances from his childhood in Iran and his experiences as a first-generation Armenian-American.

Fence is a journey into a messy world of power struggles and dismissed histories, and an examination of how "otherness" can rob our power or become its source. Staib's intensely physical movement vocabulary bonds with traditional Iranian dance, exploring unrest felt personally and globally. Through rich and compelling collaborations with musicians; composers; and scenic, lighting and digital designers; audiences become woven into the work, giving shape to the conversation around what takes your power and what gives you power.

I had the opportunity to interview Staib and ask him questions about the process of creating fence, his choreographic process, and his experience with intense collaboration.

In fence, the audience can expect to see digital projection, original music, set pieces, dramaturgy, brilliant lighting, and made-to-measure costumes. fence is the first piece of Staib’s that has been intensively collaborative and as he describes, “...not one decision was made without all collaborators chiming in.”

When asked the impact of cultivating a technically collaborative piece on portraying the personal story of his childhood, Staib responded by saying “The collaborators took the original story and abstracted it to such a degree that we believe there is space for viewers to insert themselves into the experience.” Staib described the collaborative experience as being phenomenal for himself and everyone else involved. He went on to state that “Having the time and space to meet and talk – experiment and play, has meant everything. It was a joy for us all to “respond” to what others brought to the table and also trust that our choices were thoughtful and intentional. Not one element works autonomously – there is agreement within the framework of fence and space for ideas to swirl in compelling ways.”

Alongside Staib’s movement quality, described as intensely physical and technical, fence will display elements of explosiveness, tenderness, and weighted movements. Drawing from the inspiration of memory and intimacy forming from specific life events, Staib explores how the kernel of an idea plants itself in other bodies and later merges with their histories.

Staib, who sees movement as a projection of the internal self, believes that this is only achievable when the brain is able to step out of the way. Dancers must access their internal drive, and be okay with whatever comes out. When this agreement occurs, Staib believes that dancers can be more connected to impulses, and train away judgement, analysis, description, and narrative and authentically move.

Staib is less interested in what the dancer does and is deeply interested in how the dancer commits to the material. He has shifted from creating works that suggest a deeper meaning, but still values that there is something always beneath the surface. As for the audience experience, Staib hopes that his works “...will wash over them, connect viscerally, and invite introspection as well as an opportunity to connect their own journey.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Student Maria McNiece attends B12 festival in Berlin

Rising senior dance and business major Maria McNiece received a Sally A. Radell Friends of Dance Scholarship to attend the B12 festival in Berlin this summer. Read on for a reflection on her experience.

This summer, I flew to Berlin for the b12 festival for contemporary dance and performance art and left a completely different dancer. I attended six workshops taught by international artists, saw dance film screenings, viewed b12 performance projects and pieces by workshop instructors, watched avant-garde German performance art, and made dozens of friends who are dancing and choreographing in every corner of the world. The work I saw and participated in throughout the festival had a transformative impact on me, and will surely affect the way I view, create, and experience dance moving forward.

b12 was created five years ago with the goal of building an international hub for dance artists with a deep interest in movement research. It has quickly become a sensation—drawing hundreds of international movers every year. The festival stretches over a month, and over 60 international dance artists and researchers teach workshops that are 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 days in length. Dancers at b12 create their own schedules based on their interests, and I chose to attend six workshops that focused on floorwork, physicality, and choreography.

At the beginning of the festival, I worked with Luke Jessop—an artistic director from the U.K.—and explored challenging street dance principles, explosive dynamics, and complicated inversions. After working with Victor Rottier, an artist from the Netherlands, I learned to frame dance through four major principles—accents, time, rhythm, and flow—and how to pick up significant amounts of material at lightning speed. I built contact improvisation concepts into partnering choreography with Barcelona-based dancers Guy Nader and Maria Campos for four days, and spent two days with German choreographer Nadine Gerspacher, who pushed my physical endurance and aerobic limits in continuously moving sessions.

Fabian Wixe, a Serbian artist, exposed me to David Zambrano’s research as well as “flying low” and “passing through” techniques. Fabian held his dancers to exceptionally high standards, and his demands of my physicality and engagement trained me to notice detail, maintain complete mental and physical availability for hours on end, and take constant inventory of my body. His insistence on moving at breakneck speeds and sustaining perfect precision gave me access to a world of movement qualities of which I didn’t know I was capable. The movement generation exercises he taught us were originally created as ways for him to construct distinctive material in times when inspiration failed; participating in these exercises sent me home with a full notebook and a dozen exercises I’m thrilled to add to my choreographic toolkit.

I closed the festival with an eight-day workshop with Tom Weksler, an artist from Israel, and his partner Roser Tutusaus. Their collaborative research, coined movement archery, is based on physical principles like weight pouring, hip positioning, momentum generation and diminution, and interpersonal communication. Combined, these principles create an acrobatic yet meditative
movement style. At the end of this workshop, I saw an obvious change in my phrase material—I was able to incorporate momentum, spatial attentiveness, and a broad physical range more organically.

b12 breathed new life into my dancing and creative process. It was transformative to immerse myself in learning, physicalizing, and seeing work with movement languages I had not been exposed to before coming to Europe, and it gave me countless ideas for the dance and movement studies thesis I’m choreographing this year. I would highly recommend this festival to anyone looking to expose themselves to new movement vocabularies and to broaden their choreographic toolkit, physical range, and international dance connections. I left this festival a completely different dancer, choreographer, and creative mind with access to physical languages and movement ideologies that I would have never discovered if it weren't for b12.

Note: A big shout out to Friends of Dance for their work and support in making these experiences accessible to me and other Emory dancers!